Do not to get mired down in the antics of the PCUSA
Posted Friday, October 19, 2012
We must be very careful not to get mired down in the antics of the PCUSA. Lest we forget, many courageous men and women are living out the Biblical narrative as we speak and this makes it an exciting time.
At a recent Presbytery meeting of the EPC several new congregations were received finding a new home in that denomination. Their joy was palpable. Their displayed courage was radiant.
You cannot stop a train barreling headlong towards perdition. You can only hope and pray that those aboard will summon the courage and the wisdom to jump off.
A letter to the stated clerk
Posted Friday, October 19, 2012
I recently read a synopsis of an address to the members of Presbyterian Voices for Justice, by the Rev. J. Herbert Nelson II, wherein he purported to voice the position of PCUSA on a number of issues as he sees them, regarding the upcoming November Presidential election. As a lifelong Presbyterian, retired USAF Officer and elder at the Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church in Orlando, Fla., I am furious with you all in Louisville for putting this type of far left, out of touch liberal in this sensitive position. Nelson has no business making statements to anyone on behalf of PCUSA regarding campaign finance laws, the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Obamacare (Govt. provided health care) and overall support of the Obadiah Administration’s anti-photo I.D. campaign for identifying illegal alien voters.
Nelson does not speak for me or a vast majority of Conservative Christian voters who do not support Obama or his Marxist/Communist liberal colleagues. You all in Louisville need to remember who is in the pews in our churches and paying per capita, and I can tell you that the vast majority of PCUSA members do not support the liberal movement of the church, particularly in the area of your ongoing campaign in support of same-sex marriage.
You all need to take a hard look at Nelson and replace him with someone who can recite the principles of our church without the far left agenda he espouses. Additionally, I would suggest that you do a bit of fact finding out here in the field, at individual churches, to get a sense of how far removed you all in Louisville are from what is going on and what is happening as PCUSA is falling apart right in front of you. There are some 800 odd churches on the fence right now, as a result of your insane change to ordination standards and your staff’s position supporting same-sex marriage and I sincerely hope that I am not alive to witness the total disintegration of PCUSA.
I would appreciate the courtesy of a reply from you or your office.
Bruce W. Johnson, Colonel, USAF Retired
Combat Veteran, Vietnam, Bosnia and Korea
We must indeed mind the letter and the spirit of the Bible
Posted Friday, October 19, 2012
In her Oct. 11 letter, Janet Edwards likens the struggle between liberals and traditionalists over same-sex marriage to a disconnect over the understanding of Jesus’ word as law. In particular, she suggests that it boils down to a question of whether the Scriptures permit what they don’t prohibit, or prohibit what they don’t explicitly permit. This she argues is the crux of the dispute. I believe she is wrong. I believe she is confusing the issue.
First, to the matter of whether Jesus intended for homosexuals to marry because he did not “explicitly” prohibit this in the Scriptures, (as in Mark 10:6-9 for example), she omits the crucial point from Genesis that Jesus was patiently restating: “But at the beginning of creation, God made them male and female.” (v. 6) Why would Jesus have said this if he had meant only to address the Pharisees’ test question about divorce? Arguing as Edwards does appeals to what she perceives as silence by the Lord to mean His full support of the position she holds and commends to Christendom. The Episcopal bishop Eugene Robinson offered a similar appeal to this silent “approval” when he said in a Washington Post article that Jesus “said nothing” about gay marriage. This silence does not exist. I find this very studied attempt to ignore verses 6-8 of Mark 10 to be a frustrating and indefensible tactic of those who would press this novel concept upon our churches. Please, Rev. Edwards, would you address specifically how Jesus’ words in the passage I keep citing can be consistent with an argument that marriage between homosexuals was part of God’s plan?
I have to keep reminding myself in debating the theology of this controversy not to treat it as though it were a civil legal matter. Sharp tax lawyers find such “silences” in the tax code all the time and might find Rev. Edwards’ and Robinson’s arguments in line with their own professional ability to work the corners and turn a missed comma into a goldmine. Scripture is not tax law, and I personally don’t care for theologians who try to split hairs in that way. In our understanding and discernment of Scripture, we must indeed mind the letter and the spirit of the Bible. But God’s word says something that she claims the spirit contradicts. How can it be so?
On the other hand, legalistic shenanigans abound in this denomination’s polity and court system. This is the only explanation for the GAJPC’s ridiculous, yet logical, conclusion that because our Book of Order did not previously — explicitly — prohibit the performing of a same-sex marriage by a teaching elder that doing so at the time was not really a violation of one’s ordination vows. Those rulings aside, the essential point here is that Rev. Edwards is perfectly willing to approve the court’s hair-splitting ruling in her favor, while now explicitly condoning and encouraging those who deliberately violate the same amended Book of Order right now. Forgive me, Rev. Edwards, but it seems as though what you really believe is not in your dad’s “English” understanding of law, but rather his “Italian” understanding of the law, where everything is permitted, even that which is prohibited.
Edwards advocates for this “ecclesiastical disobedience” as a way of waiting until “we can respond to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in our time, updating our definition to reflect our experience …” Many here, however, feel the pull of the same Holy Spirit to stand for Jesus’ words and ask why they are ignored.
The script synods follow when evangelicals differ with the PCUSA
Posted Friday, October 19, 2012
The Synod of Lakes and Prairies behaved in almost the exact same way toward the congregation of United Presbyterian Church of Denison, Iowa. I was a member of the session when this happened to our minister and session members.
This article reads almost like there is a “script” the synods follow when evangelicals differ with the teachings/leanings of the PCUSA. Funny how those that claim to be “tolerant” and “inclusive” are the most intolerant when their ideals are challenged.
May God Bless the staff, their families and the faithful, evangelical members of this church under attack.
Jeff Sis, member
Grace Evangelical Free Church, Denison, Iowa
Intervention not been done in a way that is glorifying to God
Posted Friday, October 19, 2012
Having read this opinion piece, I am struck that this entire “intervention” has not been done in a way that is glorifying to God. That is our chief aim in life and surely any process should have reflected that aim. And, yes, surely this church and these individual believers will never be the same. Skepticism and fragmentation only serves Satan’s purposes, not God’s. What a loss not just in the Presbyterian denomination but also for the Christian church at large. We are not doing a good job at reflecting to the world the unity that is possible in Christ. I will keep these fellow believers and these committed pastors in my prayers.
Newport Beach, Calif.
My frustration rises from the fact that I disagree with the Covenant Network
Posted Thursday, October 11, 2012
It is hard not to admire the Covenant Network. Even those of us who strongly disagree with their goals and work must acknowledge that their laser sharp focus, communication skills, and ability to organize and unite is nothing short of impressive.
We see another example of the Covenant Network’s expertise and skill in this new call to covenant. Once again it pulls people in from the margins, unifying, focusing, and equipping people to a common task. And once again I am (frustratingly) impressed. My frustration rises from the fact that I disagree with the Covenant Network. I believe its goals and aim are unfaithful and its work has led to the splitting of the church (even as it has, perhaps ironically, brought deeper unity to a part of the church). Of course the larger church is divided on this. Some agree with me. Some (more and more it appears) agree with the Covenant Network and its work and aim. This of course has led to a growing division between left and right, liberal and evangelical even as it has (ironically) furthered unity within each group. From the midst of our growing division between each side and parochial unity growing within each side I affirm your call to think afresh and decide afresh to join in covenant community.
For me and my church this means separation from the Presbyterian Church I have been a part of for 53 years in order to enter into a new covenant relationship with a new covenant people. The Covenant Network, with its allies, supporters, and friends, has won and the Presbyterian Church(USA) now belongs to them. And with this progressive victory (and defeat of the evangelical position) I find I belong to a church with which I may no longer be in covenant relationship. Thus it is time for me to enter a new covenant. As the Covenant Network has successfully suppressed and marginalized the voice of those with whom it disagrees I find that I have been forced out of the church of my birth and made to find a new covenant community.
Thus I, with my church (and numerous other churches), am in the process of leaving the PCUSA. We are preparing to enter into a new covenant with people whose passion rises above a cultural agenda and focuses instead upon the Lord Jesus. I am turning from one covenant community that has clearly and repeatedly expressed that I am not welcome to another that with me and my congregation yearns to be a part of a people overwhelmed by their love for Jesus, a people who desire to live for him and honour him and proclaim him with all the love and adoration he has brought into our hearts.
I have no doubt this new call to covenant will bring yet deeper unity to the progressive wing of the church. As the Covenant Network has successfully, even brilliantly, unified a large part of the church around its values and work it has simultaneously made clear to us on the evangelical side of the church that we are not welcome. Thus we, with you yet in very different ways, turn afresh to be a part of a new covenant. For you it will be in the new unity you have created. For me and others it will be outside the PCUSA in the new unity we are bringing to life.
Mark R. Patterson, Phd
Pastor, Community Presbyterian Church, Ventura, Calif.
Milwaukee Presbytery stood up for a congregation
Posted Thursday, October 11, 2012
I grew up in Crossroads Presbyterian Church and still have family and friends who are members of this church and I have kept a very close pulse on the unfortunate events there over the past several years (not just few months). After reading this article, I am gravely concerned at how one sided and misguided it is. I certainly understand how the Harrisons and Steven Sherrill can feel they were completely wronged in this situation, but a more thorough and balanced assessment of the situation would have found that under Tim Harrison’s leadership, this church had already become fractured and it had very little to do with his evangelical message. Tim’s larger issue was his complete failure to connect with a significant number of his congregation beyond Sundays, leaving the congregation with a no-win choice. To pursue a path to a new pastor, or simply leave the church that many had spent many years building and shaping.
They chose instead to fight for their church, rather than let Tim Harrison’s pasturing create a church that was half empty all the time and fighting for funds like too many other churches today. Their pursuit of the outside governing body only came after repeated attempts by the alienated congregation members to try and have open dialogue with Pastor Harrison about these concerns. What happened on September 23 was unfortunate, but it was the end result of a pastor who had lost the majority of his congregation several stops back and never worked to get the train back on track.
Like you have stood up for Tim and Steven in your article, the Milwaukee Presbytery stood up for a congregation who has build a wonderful and thriving community Presbyterian church and were not going to let the lack of interpersonal skills of a head pastor tear that down. There is much more to this story and I suggest you keep digging.
Ryan D. Steck
Sad to see list of churches which have strayed from God’s Word
Posted Thursday, October 11, 2012
It is so sad to see this list of churches which have strayed from God’s Word and the faith which we have been handed down by the saints through the centuries. In particular, I think of the Elizabethton, Tennesse church. I truly feel sorry for the lost sheep in that church who are being led astray by this “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” and I fault Holston Presbytery for turning its head and EVEN sending this heretic to the General Assembly as a commissioner. Jesus warned us that this would happen, and it indeed is — in all of these churches, but most especially in Elizabethton. May God have mercy on “Mr. Shuck and Jive,” as well as the complicit Holston Presbytery.
Reverend Patricia Slomanski
A theological question — not a debate
Posted Thursday, October 11, 2012
It feels a little like a family reunion to be responding to a comment by Joe Duffus, someone I’ve conversed with frequently in this forum in the past. This time I respond to his letter of September 24.
It is comforting to me that we agree that what our church is engaged in concerning same-sex marriage is “not a theological debate at all.” We are engaged in a serious church family discussion of the place of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people at Jesus’ table and therefore in the church.
A story my father told often at family parties when I was young has informed my perspective on this nagging question, now facing us in the form of allowing pastors and churches to celebrate same-sex weddings. My dad delighted in sharing this in the 50’s at the height of the Cold War. He would say,
There are four ways Europeans approach the law:
In England, everything is permitted except that which is prohibited.
In Italy, everything is permitted including that which is prohibited.
In Germany, everything is prohibited except that which is permitted, and
In the Soviet Union, everything is prohibited including that which is permitted.
I have come to understand that the breach between Presbyterians like Joe Duffus and me is the difference between what my father saw in the English and German approaches to the law.
As I see it, for Joe, everything is prohibited except that which is permitted. For Joe, since Jesus does not explicitly permit same-sex marriage, it is prohibited. On the other hand, I approach church life in the English way, according to my dad. For me, everything in the church is permitted except that which is prohibited.
When Jesus responds to the Pharisees’ question about divorce, his ringing affirmation of marriage between a man and a woman (something we all agree with) is not a prohibition of same-sex marriage. It is a prohibition against divorce and especially infidelity—a prohibition sealed by Jesus’ warning, “What therefore God has joined together, let no one put asunder.” As I say, all the LGBT people I know take this prohibition against infidelity as seriously as any other member of the PCUSA family.
The fact is, in our tradition, until the ruling of the GAPJC in the 2010 Spahr decision, same-sex marriage was not prohibited and therefore was permitted. This is why Rev. Dr. Spahr, Rev. Southard and I were all acquitted before the GAPJC AI of 2010 that usurped the rightful powers of the whole church family, through the General Assembly and presbyteries, to discern God’s will regarding same-sex marriage.
The 2010 Spahr decision is also why ecclesiastical disobedience has entered our life together, beginning with the refusal of the Presbytery of the Redwoods to rebuke Rev. Dr. Spahr as ordered by the GAPJC in 2012. It is becoming clear that this will continue until we return to our Reformed tradition of entrusting to pastors the discernment regarding assent to couples’ requests to preside at their weddings. We can return to seeing W-4.9001 for what it is, a definition in a directory, not a rule book—or, better yet, we can respond to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in our time, updating our definition to reflect our experience, and so more clearly permit marriage of two people, as pastors and sessions see fit (and some won’t marry same-sex couples according to their conscience).
What would Jesus do with the same-sex couples seeking church witness to their love and commitment, which God has so obviously blessed already? This is a theological question—not a debate—and I am glad to be in this family discussion about it.
Rev. Dr. Janet Edwards
Clerk offers apologies to AC, presbytery, session and congregation
Posted Monday, September 24, 2012
On September 20, The Layman posted a commentary by Carmen Fowler LaBerge entitled, “Members of Presbytery: ‘Is this what you had in mind?’” In it she describes an episode in an unnamed presbytery concerning the administrative commission (AC) appointed to work with a congregation seeking to leave the denomination. What she described was a meeting in which a motion was made in the session that the pastor not preach for three Sundays. At that point the session recessed, and the chair of the AC called the stated clerk of the presbytery to consult about the proposed motion. He returned with two opinions of the stated clerk: that the motion was in order and that the administrative commission could assume original jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to the authority given it by the presbytery.
LaBerge cited W-1.4004,5 and W-2.2007 to question the opinion given by the stated clerk.
I am the stated clerk that gave that opinion. The presbytery is the Presbytery of Detroit.
Elders on the session had made the motion concerning the pastor’s presence in the pulpit for the three Sundays preceding the scheduled meeting of the congregation to vote on seeking dismissal from the Presbyterian Church. After the motion was made and seconded, the AC asked for a recess. The opinion I provided when I received the call was that a session could do that under its responsibilities to provide that the Word is properly proclaimed, and that since the AC had been given the authority to assume original jurisdiction of the session, it could decide the matter if it assumed that jurisdiction.
As I read LaBerge’s commentary, I realized that in my consideration of the matter, I did not think of the provisions in the Directory of Worship that she cited. I should have and was negligent in my research for not doing so. If I had reviewed those provisions, I would have advised the administrative commission that the matter was not as clear as my opinion suggested.
By my negligence I embarrassed our administrative commission and the Presbytery of Detroit. This was particularly egregious because of the difficulties and complexities of the matter. I should have been more attentive and careful. I offer my apologies to the administrative commission, the Presbytery of Detroit, and the session and congregation of the church.
For the record, the AC wanted my opinion to assist the session in its consideration of the motion that had been made and seconded. When the meeting reconvened, the moderator ruled the motion out of order, and that is how the matter ended.
It turns out the AC was wiser than I. They were surprised at my opinion, and advised session not to pursue this matter any further and that while it would be possible to appeal the moderator’s/pastors’s ruling it would be unwise to do so.
Edward Koster, stated clerk
Presbytery of Detroit
No intellectual engagement
Posted Monday, September 24, 2012
Janet Edwards begins her letter (Sept. 19) with this assertion: “I trust we can all agree that marrying same-sex couples was not an option for Jesus in His time.” Count me as one who does not agree with that seemingly simple statement.
She may have meant that Jesus held no religious office, but Jesus frequently went against conventional wisdom and the social mores of his time in many ways, including by embracing the Samaritan woman, healing on the Sabbath and generally thumbing his nose at the legalistic notions of the Pharisees. This was not a man concerned with what others offered him as options. The Lord had his own agenda.
Yet, that agenda reinforced on the subject of marriage precisely what had been given by God, understood and practiced since Adam and Eve. Jesus says nothing in the passage in Mark to suggest the “inclusiveness” that Edwards is trying to argue for. This, then, is the heart of the matter. Jesus, given the chance in this passage to amend, broaden or reinforce the understanding of marriage as it had been known at the time, emphatically reinforces it in Mark 10:6-8. I challenge Edwards, again, to show some Scriptural passage that counters this very basic answer. If she would persuade others to believe as she does, why will she not respect the tradition of theological dispute.
Instead, she offers this: “… we must never blind ourselves to the fact that Jesus never called for the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage.” Well, yes, he did. Right there in the passage above where he parallels male and female, a man leaving his father and mother, and a man cleaving unto his wife. What could possibly suggest some other formulation, some other meaning besides the obvious, stated intention of one man marrying one woman? Show us.
And so it goes in this denominational power struggle. It is not a theological debate at all. For a debate, there would have to be competing, clearly expressed and justified understandings of scriptural passages whose meaning is not otherwise apparent or has not been settled through the ages. Instead there is gauzy rhetoric about how much Jesus “loved weddings” and blanket appeals to “love thy neighbor.” This is not intellectual engagement. It’s blowing smoke.
Pastor renounces the jurisdiction of Cascades Presbytery and the PCUSA
Posted Wednesday, September 19, 2012
The Presbyterian Lay Committee and my ministry sort of grew up together. I was ordained by the Presbytery of Albany on the 11th of June 1952, and the Lay Committee was established a while after that. I was personally acquainted with two of the organizing board members of the Lay Committee, both of whom were exemplary Christians. Dr. Ronald C. Doll was an elder in Grace Church in Montclair, N.J., where I was the associate minister. Also, he was the chairman of my doctoral committee at New York University, and went far beyond the call of duty to help and encourage me to continue to the finish during a rough time in the process, so he was a great personal friend. Russ Esty was an elder in First Church, Orange, N.J., and he taught several series of Bible classes for Grace Church while I was there, so I received great benefit from him. His claim to fame was that he not only studied the Bible diligently; he memorized whole books of the Bible by means of flash cards he had prepared, and used them while he waited on the platform for the train that took him toward New York where he was president of a combined group of financial institutions there.
Four generations of Presbyterians preceded me in the Christian walk. My parents, though poor Nebraska farmers, were deeply committed Christians. While I was a young test engineer for General Electric Company, God overpowered me and all my objections to make me a servant of His. Although I was well aware that there were flaws in the Presbyterian Church (USA) when I was ordained, I believed I could remain and be effective in God’s service as long as no measure was passed that allowed anyone to prevent me from preaching the Gospel as I found it in the Scriptures in the church to which I was called. I started a work in Loudonville, N.Y., and went from there to Montclair, N.J. After that I was senior minister in Aldrich Avenue Church in Minneapolis, after which I spent half my ministry before retirement in First Church, Anchorage. I like to boast (which is not really much of a boast) that I was the longest-term (17 and a half years) pastor of the largest (685 members) Presbyterian church in the largest (571,951 square miles) state in the United States. Since retirement the end of 1987, I have been interim minister in several churches, and have filled pulpits when pastors were away.
One emphasis I have appreciated about the Lay Committee is your strong urging for people to remain in the Presbyterian Church (USA), to fight in behalf of the Bible teachings and our Triune God of the Bible. You stated, correctly I believe, that it is more profitable to preach from within than to throw stones from the outside. Still, numerous pastors, churches and individual members have continued to slip away, and in greatly increasing numbers. Each of us has his breaking point, and God leads different people in different directions and at different times. For me, what I read in The Layman about what went on at General Assembly this past July was the straw that broke my camel’s back. I was grossly shocked to learn what was done from the platform, and even led by the newly elected moderator. To me it was an abominable, in-your-face blatant show of power by a group that has crept more and more insistently into our denomination since 1973, and now seems to claim control over the whole church. After much thought, prayer, study of Scripture and consultation with my beloved wife Claire and our three blessed children, I was sure I could no longer allow myself to be a part of such iniquity.
Therefore, near the end of August I wrote a letter to the Rev. Catherine R. Quackenbush, stated clerk of my presbytery, formally stating that I renounced the jurisdiction of the Presbytery of the Cascades and of the Presbyterian Church (USA). I write this to you merely for your information, not to attempt to cajole others to do the same, unless God surely leads them in the same direction.
I am quite content in my decision, simply because four years before the Presbytery of Albany ordained me, God had unmistakably called and ordained me to His service; and He has said to me and to us all, “There is no discharge in that war.”
Thomas R. Teply
Gold Beach, Ore.
As a teaching elder in the PCUSA, Vandersall took ordination vows
Posted Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Mieke Vandersall raised a question in her letter that I would like to try to help her answer. In defending the decision to officiate the “Christian marriages” of homosexual couples who come to her, she asks, “Who am I to say no?” Perhaps the following will help clarify her thinking.
Mieke, you are, at least by title, a teaching elder (minister of Word and Sacrament) in the PCUSA. As such, you took ordination vows.
In the opening vow, you affirm Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord of all, yet by your action of affirming couples in their homosexual behavior and leading them to the illusion that God blesses such activity, you are denying Christ His role as Savior in their lives concerning this sin, and denying them recognition of their perilous state apart from repentance.
In the second vow, you acknowledge the divine inspiration of Scripture and accept it as God’s Word to you. The clear, plain reading of Scripture, as well as the Biblical theology of marriage and sexuality, prohibit the honoring of same-sex unions as blessed before God, much less church-sanctioned marriages in His eyes.
In the third vow, you promise to be instructed and led in your ministry by the confessional documents of our denomination. Without exception our confessional documents define marriage in solely heterosexual terms and indicate homosexual behavior as contrary to God’s will.
In the fourth vow, you promise to obey Jesus Christ under the authority of Scripture, guided continually by our confessions. This summarizes the emphases of the three prior vows. Obedience to this vow precludes the possibility of conducting a same-sex marriage as a teaching elder of the PCUSA.
In the fifth vow, you promise submission to our church’s polity and discipline. Further, you promise to work as a friend among colleagues in ministry, subject to the ordering of God’s Word and Spirit. Since the marrying of same-sex couples violates God’s Word, which was inspired by His Spirit, any act from a teaching elder to conduct, promote or justify such relationships implicates fellow colleagues in ministry and breaches this vow to work as a friend among colleagues. Our PC(USA) polity forbids ministers from conducting same-sex weddings; you have promised submission to this polity.
The sixth vow calls you to seek personally to follow the Lord Jesus, to love your neighbors and to work for the reconciliation of the world. If the Scriptures are the inspired Word of God, revealing the mind of Christ, then for you to bless what God has banned is to violate all three elements of this vow. To hallow a homosexually-based relationship in the name of God is to snub God’s written and living Word. It is to mislead people as to the love of God, opening them to an eternity of wrath for willful disobedience to God. It undercuts the mission of reconciliation to God because it proclaims that nothing related to homosexual life per se needs God’s forgiveness and reconciliation. Yet the Scriptures declare the opposite.
In the seventh vow you promise to further the peace, unity and purity of the church. The last forty years of our denominational history have proven that those promoting the issue of homosexual normalization in marriage and ordination have disturbed the peace, fractured the unity and clouded the purity of the church. Hundreds of thousands of members have fled the bosom of the PCUSA, hundreds of churches have sought dismissal or simply disaffiliated from our denomination, sister denominations of the Reformed faith around the world have reluctantly but resolutely dissolved their ties with us. In terms of purity, those outside the church in American society can’t see any significant difference between our morality and that of the world. Obedience to this vow would have spared our present state of shattered fellowship and muted message if our ordained leaders had taken it seriously over the last forty years.
The final vow you took involves the commitment to pray for and seek to serve the people with energy, intelligence, imagination and love. How the PCUSA would be a wonderfully different, God-honoring denomination today if her leaders employed their energy, intelligence, imagination and love to seek to persuade people of the truth and joy of life in God’s will as revealed in Scripture rather than to use such gifts to help people justify fallen behaviors and falsely bless them in the name of God.
Who are you, Mieke, to say no to those asking you to conduct a same-sex wedding? The answer is: you are a servant of Jesus Christ, who has vowed to uphold the truth of Scripture, to proclaim salvation to lost sinners through Christ alone, to point people away from judgment and to newly sanctified life in the Spirit, to stand with the teaching of the Church down through the ages as a beacon for all those seeking guidance, to honor the polity of our covenanted way of life as a denomination, to love God and neighbor as God defines love. In taking your vows, you promised to be a person who would say no to those persons or behaviors which demean the glory of God as revealed in the Scriptures.
If you cannot do this, then there are three possible options: 1) continue to live hypocritically as one bearing the title of a minister in the PCUSA but acting against its teachings; 2) renounce your ordination vows and find a religion more compatible with your views, or start your own; 3) turn yourself in to your presbytery, admitting your violation of our polity and your intention to face the proper discipline of the church.
I hope, instead, you will reconsider the vows you originally took, and will become a champion of the orthodoxy and orthopraxy that the PCUSA once stood faithfully for.
Would Jesus celebrate the wedding of Adam and Steve?
Posted Wednesday, September 19, 2012
I am writing in response to the Rev. Dr. Mieke Vandersal’s letter of September 13, 2012. In her letter, Vandersal explained why she has officiated at same-sex weddings and how by doing so she has honored her ordination promises to seek to follow Jesus. I know your readers have this same desire to seek to follow Jesus and make the same promise to do so. So the overarching question for us all becomes: Would Jesus celebrate the marriages of two men or two women today?
This is an important question for us to discuss, together, so that we may discern God’s will in our time. I trust we can all agree that marrying same-sex couples was not an option for Jesus in His time. Neither was He a civil or religious official nor was marriage viewed in the same way then as it is now. Today, marriage is focused on love and commitment, not property or politics, and the understanding of marriage is expanding to include gay and lesbian couples in more and more states across the country. Many of these couples feel called by God to enter the covenant of marriage with the church as witness, knowing the blessing of God is already upon their fidelity. They come to Mieke, to me, and could come to you to bless their loving covenant in the context of their faith in Jesus Christ and their church family.
So what would Jesus do?
I base my answer upon Jesus’ approach to marriage and to people.
Jesus clearly loved weddings. He used the image of the wedding feast for God’s realm many times. His attendance at the wedding in Cana was memorable. Jesus treasured the Old Testament tradition of marriage as an image of God’s covenant with us where the crucial element in marriage is fidelity. We see this in His conclusion to the Pharisees in Mark 10:9, “What therefore God has joined, let no one put asunder.” Love and commitment are the heart of marriage for Jesus. And while we cherish the example He gives of man and a woman together, we must never blind ourselves to the fact that Jesus never called for the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage. Jesus never excluded anyone—marriage between a man and a woman was simply all anyone knew at that time.
So how can I say Jesus’ inclusion would mean His celebrating the marriage of same-sex couples today? I believe His approach to people gives us the answer.
Jesus was a healer who showed a special heart for the people who were hurt by being shunned for who they were. The Syro-Phoenician woman taught Him this. The lepers, the Samaritans, the women, for example, were all relegated to the lowest place in their society and suffered the spiritual hurt that such treatment carries with it. Mieke testifies to the severe hurt perpetrated by the church’s severe judgment of same-sex couples that is still rampant today.
We need only watch the GA debate on the Committee 13 recommendations to hear that kind of piercing, stinging perspective. Jesus tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves, and yet no one could bear hearing those condemning words directed at them without recoiling in pain. Jesus embraced the shunned, healing them. He would do the same for two men or two women like the couple Mieke describes, Teresa and Gina, whose love shines with all the qualities Jesus would recognize as marriage, as we do. Jesus would bless them in God’s name, as Mieke did, and they would be healed as they have been under Mieke’s care.
All of us give ourselves every day to love God and to love our neighbors. We do this by following Jesus. Mieke is a model of loving God and neighbor—of following Jesus—because, if given the opportunity, I am sure that Jesus would have, indeed, celebrated the marriage of Adam and Steve.
Rev. Dr. Janet Edwards
Explaining my past and ongoing Christian witness to LGBT communities
Posted Thursday, September 13, 2012
In your July/August 2012 edition, you refer to the”declarations on the floor of the assembly by pastors who admitted toperforming gay weddings” that went unchallenged. I write as one of those pastors.
I write because I want to explain my past and ongoing Christian witness to LGBT communities. As an out, lesbian Presbyterian clergywoman, I have seen first-hand how deeply hurt LGBT folk can be by the church and I am in the unique position to try and heal some of that hurt and bring people into a life-giving relationship with God. I conduct extensive pre-marital counseling with each couple who comes to me and here is what one couple, Teresa and Gina, said after our work together:
“By the time we married we had been together 12 years. We’ve weathered big events in life like deaths in the family, rejections of us and the relationship by family and faith communities, and changes in employment.. We had been through it and had a strong relationship. Even so, our meetings with Mieke taught us more about ourselves both as individuals and as a couple. Our interactions with Mieke—including the homework she had us do and our discussions about it—led us to understand even more deeply what our relationship means to us and how the marriage would add to and possibly change that meaning. It was also obvious through the process that Mieke cared about us as people and wanted to see our relationship with the church begin to heal from the years of wounds we both felt administered in God’s name. Her care helped both of us to find some peace and new approaches to reestablishing our faith.”
Their words really do speak for themselves. When I have people like these extraordinary women coming to me asking for me to bless their relationship and seal it in the form or marriage who am I to say no? Living in New York State where same-sex marriage is legal has provided me with the request of several couples who seek their wedding to be officiated by a Christian clergy person who will help them live into the vows they dare to take. I have experienced nothing less than God has brought them to me as they challenge me to live into my ordination vow to: seek to follow the Lord Jesus Christ, love my neighbors and work for the reconciliation of the world.
In Christ’s Service,
Rev. Mieke Vandersall
Teaching Elder, Presbytery of New York City, Minister Director, Presbyterian Welcome